Posted on March 20, 2019 by Brent Wildman
Typical keyword strategy involves optimizing your content for a limited number of keywords in a given piece—often no more than one or two. This single-keyword approach was a product of its time; search algorithms weren’t as advanced as they are today, and building an SEO profile was as simple as optimizing each page for a single-string term.
Things work a little differently these days. Search crawlers are now sophisticated enough to detect multiple topics and contextual clues across indexed content, and individual keyword strategies don’t hold the clout they used to.
To look at it another way, crawlers are no longer the limiting factor in keyword optimization. Why be satisfied with a few keywords when you could optimize for a hundred?
What Is Keyword Clustering?
Keyword clustering—also known as keyword grouping—is similar to traditional keyword research but performed on a much larger scale. The idea is to analyze data sources (such as your customer behavior data, competitor strategies, and industry trends) to create business-specific groups of keywords that you can slice and dice to build out your SEO.
The process is similar to typical keyword research but on a bigger scale and organized a bit differently.
By creating keyword “clusters,” you’ll learn more about how keywords relate to one another, which terms may be favored by your audience, and how to better identify audience intent.
The Keyword Mapping Process
With all of the above in mind, let’s dive in to how you can begin the keyword clustering process on your own.
1. Collect Keyword Data
Start by pulling keyword data from as many sources as possible. Take no prisoners, here. It’s better to have too much data to work with than not enough. Mine the following sources for keyword information and compile everything together in a spreadsheet:
- Existing keyword research
- Website user behaviors/customer data
- Focus keywords/topics covered by competitors
- Free online assessment tools – Google Analytics, Moz, SEMrush, etc.
Build these out until you have a big list of any and every keyword variation that might apply to your business. Expect to build this list out until you have several hundred keywords to work with. (You’ll prune them down in later steps). Put the list together, delete any repeats or duplicates you find, and move on to step two.
2. Narrow the List
Next, look at your list and narrow down the search terms until you have a workable list.
Examine your list and look for patterns. You’ll likely notice that many of the entries share the same focus keyword but with different subcomponents:
- “Best web design”
- “Most affordable web design”
- “Web design strategies”
- “Best affordable web design”
And so on. Obviously, web design is a primary keyword, but note which of these subcomponents occur most often as well. It’s important to recognize which terms pop up most often across every keyword variation, as this will form the basis for grouping in later steps. There are some great online tools out there that make this process easy.
3. Identify Themes
From this list, find the keyword terms best suited to driving traffic and content relevancy for your audience. From your above list (paired with online word counting tools and Excel counting formulas) you can get a great view of which terms occur most often.
Look at this list and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which terms are most relevant to my business?
- Which terms are the most competitive (as determined by Google Analytics and other tools)?
- Which terms make the most sense for content focus? (E.g., “ugly web design examples” might be a high-volume search term, but it offers less potential for content integration than something more positive, like “best website design.”)
4. Group Keywords Together
After answering the above questions, you should start to have some idea of what kinds of keywords are the most valuable to your company. Look for patterns in these lists and group your keywords together in categories. A common choice is grouping by marketing funnel stage:
- Awareness/Lead generation keywords
- Consideration/Lead nurturing keywords
- Purchase/Conversion keywords
Look for organizational themes among your keywords and compile them to create categories. If you’re struggling here, look into online tools that can do it for you. There are plenty of great options out there that can automatically segregate keywords into groups—a great place to start, if nothing else.
Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong category. It’s entirely dependent on your preferences. At the end of this step, you should have several grouped keyword lists centralized around specific themes (as well as frequency data and competitiveness rankings). This is the framework you need to optimize your content.
5. Map Keywords to Content
The last step is to take your keyword clusters and apply them to your content.
There are a couple ways to approach this. You can go by category and approach the optimization blog-by-blog, adding keywords in and refreshing the material with relevant search terms. Another approach is to look at the keyword categories and look for recurring themes that can inform future content production.
Either way, you’re improving your content (and your SEO) through a disciplined approach built on data rather than guesswork or instinct.
Boosting Traffic Through Keyword Optimization
A solid keyword clustering strategy does more than just boost your page ranking; it builds an SEO profile that’s resilient. Content inspired by dozens of focused keyword phrases will get found more and be more resistant to the ebbs and flows of SEO changes.
When compared to the old methods of optimizing each page for only one or two keywords, it’s a no-brainer. Keyword clusters take a mature approach to SEO that companies need to stay competitive—both now, and in the coming years.